Grand Prix competitor
The Dodge Monaco was originally intended to compete with the Pontiac Grand Prix model in what came to be known as the personal luxury market. Introduced on September 25, 1964, the 1965 Monaco was based on the Custom 880 two-door hardtop coupe body. The Monaco received special badging, different taillights and grille treatment, and a sportier interior with a full-length center console, as well as a 383 cu in (6.28 L) 315 hp (235 kW) V8 engine as standard equipment. Larger, more powerful engines were also available as options.
Chrysler Canada Ltd. fielded a Dodge Monaco which was Dodge's version of the Plymouth Sport Fury in Canada. It was available in hardtop coupe or convertible body styles. However, Canadian Monacos were equipped with Plymouth dashboards in 1965 and 1966. Unlike the American Monaco, the Canadian Monaco could be had with the 318 cu in (5.21 L) V8 or even the slant six.
Taking over for the Custom 880
For 1966, in the U.S., the Monaco replaced the Custom 880 series and the former Monaco became the Monaco 500. The basic Monaco was available in hardtop coupe, 4-door (pillarless) hardtop sedan, conventional 4-door (pillared) sedan, and 4-door station wagon bodystyles. In the U.S., the Monaco 500 was available only as a hardtop coupe. The Canadian Dodge hung onto the "Monaco" name for the Sport Fury equivalent and Polara 880 for the Fury III competitor.
For 1967, all full-sized Dodges, the Monaco included, would receive a significant face-lift with all-new exterior sheet metal. The Elwood Engel school of design was in full force, featuring generally flat, even boxy, body planes, with sharp-edged accent lines. The hardtop coupes would adopt a new semi-fastback roofline with a reverse slanted rear quarter window.
In Canada, the Monaco name was finally applied for '67 to all of the premium full-sized Dodge products (sedans, coupes, and station wagons), replacing the Polara 880 at the top of the Dodge line. Taking the Monaco's place as a premium full-size model was the Monaco 500, which was available only as a two-door hardtop and convertible.
Changes would be minimal for 1968. Dodge would discontinue the Monaco 500 model at the end of the 1968 model run in the United States and at the end of the 1970 model run in Canada.
The "fuselage look", 1969–1973
For the 1969 model year, all full-sized Dodge cars, including the Monaco, would adopt Chrysler Corporation's new "fuselage" styling. The theme of the design was to integrate the upper- and lower-body into one cohesive, gracefully curved unit. Curved side glass added to the effect, as did the deletion of the "shoulder" which had made the design of the 1965-68 Dodges (and, for that matter, all Chrysler Corporation full-size cars) look like boxes stacked upon one another. Unlike the gracefully curved intermediate-sized Coronet and Charger, which had debuted the year before with very distinctive lines, the Monaco appeared clean and featureless.
The look started in the front of the car, with a nearly straight-across bumper (demanded by a Chrysler executive after a Congressional committee attacked him over the seeming inability of car bumpers to protect cars from extensive damage in low-speed collisions) and a five-segment eggcrate grille that surrounded the headlamps. When the cars failed to spark buyers' interest, Dodge executives demanded a change. By the summer of 1969, the division released new chrome trim for the front fender caps and leading edge of the hood as an option, which gave the appearance of a then-fashionable loop bumper without the tooling expense. At the rear, continued with Dodge's signature delta-shaped taillamps, this time in a new form that required the top of the bumper to slope downward toward each end. With nicely tailored chrome moldings surrounding the lamps, the rear end was arguably more distinctive and better executed than the front.
The wheelbase of the 1969-73 Dodge was increased from 121 inches to 122 inches, and the length was increased to about 220 inches.
Available models for 1969 included a two-door hardtop coupe, four-door hardtop sedan, four-door pillared sedan, and two four-door station wagons (six- or nine-passenger). A new Brougham option package debuted, which included a vinyl roof (on sedans and hardtops) and a split-bench front seat with a reclining mechanism for the passenger's side (except on the two-door hardtops). Monaco wagons, befitting their top-of-the-line status among Dodge station wagons, received woodgrained vinyl trim along their sides and across the dual-action tailgate.
Returning for '69 was the "500" option, which in the U.S. market gave the Monaco front bucket seats and a center armrest. In Canada, the Monaco 500 was a separate series that used the side trim of the Polara 500 sold in the U.S. Canadians could also buy a Monaco convertible; U.S. Dodge full-size convertible shoppers had only the lower-end Polara and Polara 500 to choose from.
As Dodge's top-of-the-line, Monacos came standard with Chrysler's corporate 383-cubic-inch V8 B-block engine with a two-barrel carburetor, which delivered 290 horsepower (220 kW). Buyers could order their 383 with a four-barrel carb that increased power to 330 hp (250 kW), or they could go all the way and opt for the 375 horsepower (280 kW) and a 440-cubic-inch Magnum RB-block engine. Wagon buyers choosing the 440 got a 350 horsepower (260 kW) version.
Dodge topped off the new cars with a new option, which forecast the projector-beam halogen headlamps that came into use years later. It was called "Super-Lite," and consisted of a $50 optional road lamp mounted in the driver's side of the grille. The premise behind the Super-Lite was to enhance visibility at night in situations where more light than the standard low beams was needed but the high beams would cause glare to oncoming drivers.
As mentioned above, the new-look '69 big Dodges did not set the world — or the sales charts — on fire. Sales of the Polara and Monaco were off by nearly 20,000 cars compared with 1968, with the Monaco line accounting for 38,566 of the 127,252 full-size cars made by Dodge for the year.
In order to add some flair to the cars, the 1970 models got completely new front and rear styling that included expensive-to-make loop bumpers front and rear. In the front, the new bumper enclosed a new diecast grille and the headlamps. At the rear, the double-loop bumper enclosed the taillamps. Backup lamps were moved up into the endcaps that terminated the quarter panels, in slotted body-color housings that mimicked the parking lamps of the 1967 Pontiac Grand Prix, although the look was certainly unique and tasteful.
The designers chose to emphasize the length of the hood this year, which meant that the redesigned front end grew by three inches. However, the new rear end was four inches (102 mm) shorter in length. The new dimensions were much more pleasing than the nearly equal-length front and rear ends of the '69s.
Chrysler's engineering staff didn't let the designers have all of the fun for '70. They had been busy improving the corporate torsion-bar front suspension system. The new "Torsion-Quiet" system used strategically placed rubber isolators to seal out road noise and vibrations, which are the bane of unibody automobiles. The rear wheel track was broadened by nearly three inches as Dodge installed the same rear axle on all Monaco models (the wider axle had been used solely in wagons the previous year).
On the option front, the Brougham and 500 packages continued, but the 440 Magnum V8 was dropped. The 350 horsepower (260 kW) version 440, available only in wagons for '69, became the new top engine for all Monacos. And, despite the fanfare surrounding the Super-Lite that had been introduced the previous year, Dodge dropped the light option at the end of the model year because of a lack of consumer interest and challenges to its legality in some states.
Despite all of the changes, which cost Chrysler a rather large sum of money, Monaco (and Polara) sales tanked. Only 24,692 Monacos were built for the model year.
The 1971 Monaco, which got less of a facelift than had been originally planned, got a new grille within the bumper that had been used the previous year, and other minor styling changes that were focused mainly at the rear. A new single-loop rear bumper and larger taillamps were installed.
The 500 option package was deleted, along with the Super-Lite, although a stereo cassette player/recorder with microphone was new on the option list. Bucket seats remained available despite the loss of the 500 package, and the Brougham package was also still available (and a good value at $220) despite the addition of a separate Polara Brougham series.
Under the hood, all of the engines had their compression ratios reduced so they could all use regular fuel. As a result, the two-barrel 383 reduced power to 275 hp (205 kW), the four-barrel 383 reduced power to 300 hp (220 kW), and the 440 reduced power to 335 hp (250 kW).
In an interesting change, Monaco station wagons, which in 1969 and '70 had worn their woodgrain trim on the lower bodysides, got completely new woodgrain up high on the sides — even around the windows! The new vinyl decals were translucent, allowing some of the paint color to show through. Not everyone liked the new look, but it was certainly distinctive.
Despite the power losses and mild styling change, sales picked up a bit. About 900 more Monacos were built for '71 (approximately 25,544 — an exact number isn't known — versus 24,692 the previous year).
For the 1972 model year, the full-sized Dodges finally got the all-new sheetmetal that had originally been planned for 1971 but delayed when Chrysler started facing the first of its soon-to-be epidemic financial crises. Setting off the new look for the Monaco was a new front end with concealed headlamps set above a completely new bumper-grille. It looked expensive and impressive. The sides of the car did away with their previous plump appearance in favor of a new, lean look with a sharp new feature line that started on the front fenders and ran back through the doors, kicking up ahead of the rear wheels. Sedan and hardtop rooflines were new and more formal-looking. At the rear, there was yet another new loop bumper and car-wide taillight and lens ensemble, which, like the rest of the car, looked much more expensive and impressive. Station wagons got a new rear appearance, too, with stacked vertical taillamps. The Monaco got a smaller standard V8 for '72. The 360-cubic-inch engine, which had been introduced in '71 as an option on Polaras, developed 175 horsepower (130 kW), now measured as net instead of gross. Replacing the 383 was a new 400-cubic-inch, 190 horsepower (140 kW) V8. The 440 remained available, but it now turned out 230 horsepower (170 kW) net.
Despite the nominal power reductions, buyers fell hard for the new-look Monacos. Sales surged, nearly reaching 1969 levels, with 37,013 built for the model year.
For its last year in the fuselage body, the Monaco continued with its 1972 styling, except for another new rear bumper with sharp new taillamps, along with a surprisingly sharp-looking new decklid and rear-quarter endcaps. The only sour points on the exterior were the large, awkward-looking black-rubber-on-chrome bumper guards that were added front and rear to meet new federal five-mile-per-hour impact standards. The cars gained a substantial amount of length this year — some six and a half inches on hardtops and sedans — due mostly to the bumper guards.
Inside, new fire-retardant materials in virtually every visible part of the interior meant added safety. Under the hood, while all three available engines lost power, they gained reliability with the addition of Chrysler's new electronic ignition system, which virtually eliminated ignition system maintenance (except, of course, for changing spark plugs).
Sadly, not as many buyers were willing to pony up for the '73 Monacos, despite the cars' improvements. Sales dropped again, this time to 29,396. 1973 proved to be the Monaco's final year as Dodge's top-of-the-line full-size car. After 14 years, the Polara name was dropped and, for 1974, all big Dodges would carry the Monaco name.
Final full-size, 1974–1977
The 1974 model year Dodge was completely redesigned with an all-new unibody platform and all-new sheet metal. However, the new cars debuted at precisely the wrong time. Within days of their introduction, the 1973 oil crisis began and, suddenly, big cars became the pariahs of the auto industry. Chrysler was excoriated in the media for bringing out huge new cars, and sales suffered accordingly. In truth, it was just bad timing, as the new Monacos were very good cars, but they had been designed for a different era, and they quickly faded away. As mentioned above, for 1974, the long-running Polara and Polara Custom models were discontinued. They were replaced by a basic Monaco and Monaco Custom respectively. The previous Monaco was renamed Monaco Brougham. The Brougham name had long been used on the luxury option package which was available from 1969 to 1973. Gone were the hidden headlamps of the previous models, replaced by fixed headlamps on all Monacos, but that would change.
For the 1975 model year, changes to the base Monaco were minimal. However, the Monaco Custom was renamed the Royal Monaco, and the Monaco Brougham became the Royal Monaco Brougham. These newly named models featured (as Monacos had in 1972 and '73) concealed headlamps. 1975 would be the last year that the four-door hardtop would be available. After the start of the 1975 model year, a limited production option for Royal Monaco Brougham coupes was introduced. The Diplomat package featured a landau vinyl roof with opera windows and a wide steel roof band.
Changes to the 1976 model would be minimal, and the virtually unchanged 1977 models (except for bumper corner tip radius details) proved to be the last true full-size Dodges. However, all full-size models were Royal Monacos for '77, as the mid-size Coronet was renamed Monaco.
The 1974-1977 Monacos received star treatment as the Bluesmobile in the 1980 feature film The Blues Brothers, directed by John Landis. In it, a 1974 Monaco which was formerly a police cruiser is purchased by Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) and used as the brothers' transportation. Jake, just released from prison, disapproves of the vehicle, but Elwood states its technical specifications as "It's got a cop motor, a 440-cubic-inch plant. It's got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks. It's a model made before catalytic converters so it'll run good on regular gas." Monacos from 1975-77 are also featured as Illinois State Trooper cars and Chicago city police cars.
Downsized: The 1977–1978 Monaco
As a lingering result of the 1973-74 energy crisis, Chrysler decided to shift the Monaco nameplate to the mid-size B platform for 1977. The "new" 1977 mid-sized Monaco replaced the previous Coronet 4-door sedan, 4-door station wagon and Charger hardtop coupe. The Monaco Brougham replaced the previous Coronet Brougham 4-door sedan and Charger Sport hardtop coupe, while the Monaco Crestwood station wagon replaced the previous Coronet Crestwood. The Charger S.E., which at this point became the sole Charger still available, continued unchanged.
The "new" Monacos, for all of the marketing hype, were little-changed from the Coronets which had gone before. A revised front-end design with stacked rectangular quad headlamps gave the cars a resemblance to the contemporary Chevrolet Monte Carlo when viewed head-on. With Chrysler Corporation in dire financial straits during these years, there was little that could be done to give the cars a fresh look, so changes had to be minimal and as inexpensive as possible.
The 1977 and 1978 models can be seen as the police vehicles in the 1980-1985 seasons of The Dukes of Hazzard. Large numbers were bought and then suffered ignominious ends, destroyed in stunt crashes but due to the toughness of the design, were often repaired and reused repeatedly.
The Dodge St. Regis
The Monaco nameplate disappeared at the end of the 1978 model year. Both the mid-sized Monaco and the full-sized Royal Monaco were replaced by the St. Regis for the 1979 model year.
Available in only a single bodystyle, a four-door pillared sedan with frameless door windows, the St. Regis was marketed and priced as a full-sized car. It was also considered to be a full-sized car by the United States Environmental Protection Agency based on its passenger compartment and trunk volumes. In size, it was comparable to, but typically larger than, the competing downsized full-sized models from GM and Ford.
Stylewise, from the side, the St. Regis looked nearly identical to the concurrent Chrysler Newport and Plymouth Gran Fury (which debuted for 1980). Only from the front and rear could one tell the three apart. The St. Regis, arguably, had the most stylish front end, with headlamps mounted behind swing-away plexiglas doors. It was nothing if not bold.
As if the new car needed any further handicaps against the competition, which rode on all-new platforms, the St. Regis (along with Chrysler's Newport and Plymouth Gran Fury) was built, by necessity, on basically the same unibody platform as the old B platform Monaco, although the new car was slightly longer in both wheelbase and overall length. This basic platform, which had been rechristened the R-body, dated to Virgil Exner's "plucked chicken" 1962 Dodges and Plymouths. To be fair, it had been updated several times and, despite its age, was still a very competent chassis.
While it never came close to matching the Monaco it replaced in sales to the general public, the St. Regis did relatively well as a police car. In fact, after its first year, the vast majority of St. Regis sales were to law enforcement agencies. However, even those sales couldn't save the car, which, along with its Chrysler and Plymouth siblings, was killed off halfway through the 1981 model year.